Bibliobites in June: In the Cookie Jar

In June our Bibliobites group made a detour into the winter wonderland of Lake Eden, Minnesota, the fictional home of baker/amateur sleuth Hannah Swensen.  Hannah has starred in multitudinous “cozy mysteries” which feature lots of discussions about food and baking, in addition to murder!  This month’s title (26th in the series by author Joanne Fluke), The Chocolate Cream Pie Murder, includes over 30 recipes– so whether you wanted to solve a mystery, bake, or both, you had plenty of options.  Our Midwestern sojourn may have been brief, but did we enjoy the ride?  Or at least find some good cookie recipes?

As we began our meeting, everyone confessed that they had not made any recipes from the book.  This actually turned out to be a bit inaccurate (more on that later), but the main issue was that the weather was hot enough that most of us didn’t feel the urge to turn on the oven and bake.  It didn’t help that the book takes place in February, and therefore most of the recipes were oriented accordingly– rich cakes, hearty breakfast bakes, stews, and soups.  Not what most of us wanted to eat during a warm and sunny month!  And there were  complaints that many recipes used packaged ingredients– cake mixes, whipped topping, pudding mix, condensed soups– which most of us prefer to avoid.  This reliance on mixes made for an old-fashioned feel, “very retro” as one person commented, despite the fact that this title was published in 2019.

We did bake a few things (despite the initial denials); peach scones were “not very peachy” despite containing a goodly amount of peach jam, and the consistency of the scones seemed a bit off– they were more like a cakey cookie than a flaky scone.  But, “they were good with jam.”  Another breakfast treat, apricot coffee cake, was “solid” but not outstanding.  It was a pretty standard combination of cake, fruit filling, and crumbly topping.  Forgotten cookies were fun to make and tasty; this classic recipe is a meringue combined with chocolate chips and nuts.  Once the cookie batter is dropped onto a baking sheet, you put them in the oven and then immediately turn the oven off; the cookies stay in the oven overnight, and in the morning they’re ready to go.  Just be sure you don’t make them on a humid/rainy day!  The recipes had some quirks; for instance, we noticed that the author constantly tells you to pack the flour into the cup when measuring, which none of us had ever seen before.  Some of her instructions seemed overly detailed and verbose  (“take out a spoon from your silverware drawer”), but that could be helpful for an inexperienced cook.

For the murder mystery, there were widely varying opinions.  Some thought this title, and her others, were the perfect beach read.   They’re “fun….light….not gruesome.”    They’re an “escape” and “you can read them  in a couple of hours.”  Others were disappointed, “it wasn’t a book for me,” “I gave up after a few chapters,” “the book dropped me into the middle of the story– there were no explanations about the characters (needed if you hadn’t read the whole series).”  The writing didn’t make the grade for some, “I thought it was very poorly written,” and overall it “felt a little dated.”  But, clearly the author has found a formula that works for her legions of faithful fans– so her success is not a fluke (pun intended!).   The Hannah Swensen stories have also been turned into a Hallmark Channel series called Murder She Baked, so if you like the books you’ll probably enjoy the movies.

Since this title has two distinct components (a mystery and recipes), we rated them separately; the story averaged out to a 2.6 (out of a possible 5), and the recipes were uniformly rated a 2.  So, though some of us will be happy to revisit Lake Eden and its denizens, we probably won’t be baking much from these books!

Our June meeting was the last until September; we’ll next meet on Friday, September 24 at 11 AM; and by then we hope we will be able to meet in person in the library.  Thank you so much to everyone who participated this year, either on zoom, or via email, or by stopping into the library to briefly chat.  Your enthusiasm and good humor during the past year and a half are greatly appreciated, and won’t be soon forgotten.

Have a wonderful summer, and see you in the fall!